An article in the Chronicle Herald (by Bruce Cheadle via CP) is of interest.
Reader beware: the headline on your favourite Internet news site may have been bought and prescribed by a political party, candidate, lobbyist, corporation or TV show.
In fact, just about anyone with deep enough pockets can pay some
private Internet web proprietors to highlight legitimate news stories
of their choice ‚Äî along with deeply provocative, or flattering, headlines.
There’s nothing illegal about the practice. But it does raise troubling ethical questions and opens a quagmire in Canada’s election advertising laws, especially during campaign periods when parties’ ad expenditures are supposed to be closely monitored.
If a political party pays a news site to highlight as a top story
something that is deeply negative about an opponent, complete with a deliberately torqued headline, should that be considered advertising? Make no mistake, this practice is occurring all the time.
A multitude of sources say this is precisely the business model of Bourque Newswatch, Canada’s most popular private political news aggregator and the Internet news destination of choice for much of the federal chattering class.
We don’t care to defend Bourque particularly. We don’t care for him much. But at least he is obvious about it.
Many of his clients, some of which he lists on the site, were willing to talk off the record, but very few wanted to speak publicly.
Tim Powers, a Conservative party strategist, is an Ottawa lobbyist
who runs Summa Strategies, which has employed Bourque’s services on behalf of various clients.
Powers, one of the few clients who would talk on the record, sees no
problem with what Bourque is doing because the site is up front about it.
“There’s nothing hidden, there’s no small print. There’s nothing
wrong with an entrepreneur capitalizing upon his entrepreneurial
abilities and the desire of the market to purchase.” [link]
We guess no Liberal client was willing to speak. One might get the impression that Bourque is paid mostly by Conservatives. We want to point out that several bloggers-including conservative ones- have been critical of Bourque for having his headlines for sale ( he wasn’t always so open about it) and won’t link to him ( we took his link off Ww also for a while). His headlines may sound conservative sometimes but he has Liberal connections.
…the site, run by Pierre Bourque, a one-time Ottawa city councillor and failed federal Liberal candidate, seems to openly advertise the practice. [emph. ours]
The site ( www.bourque.com), which some reports suggest gets more than five million visits per month, [debatable] advertises its ability to provide “unique customized tactical messaging capabilities” and lists its services as “banners, headlines, pop polls, e-mail blasts (and) more.”
Visitors to Bourque Newswatch see a page with a series of short,
punchy headlines. Clicking on the headline links the reader to a story,
usually on an external news site. The link may also be to a news
release on a corporate website, or a polling company survey.
Bourque did not respond to repeated e-mails and phone messages seeking an interview for this story.
Bourque is not really a blogger, he’s more a news aggregator, linking to stories from the MSM or where-ever on the net he finds them. He picks his
stories because they are ones he wants to highlight or because he thinks
his readers will find them interesting OR because he is paid to. He makes no comments except in way the headlines are pitched (that can have a strong effect, though) or where they are placed. Presumably if you pay they are top dog, bigger font, and run for longer.
As we said, we don’t particularly defend Bourque. It is a method we wouldn’t use ourselves but, let’s be honest, the MSM have editors who choose what stories they will run (or don’t run!) and what headlines they put on them. If the Main Stream Press favours a particular party or point of view who howls? Oh, they may not get paid directly per piece, but what if they get funding from a government agency like ACOA or revenue from Municipal, Provincial or Federal authorities (think of the CBC) or are dependent on advertising from one industry or another, or have personal connections, or belong to a media conglomerate which has all kinds of influences. What then? This kind of influence is hidden. The days of an independent, free, objective press are over, if we ever really had one. So it is interesting the MSM is bashing Bourque. Isn’t there something about glass houses?